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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 3 Hansard (25 March) . . Page.. 833 ..

MR STANHOPE (continuing):

I think there is a philosophical issue here, though - the right of any person who is incarcerated, awaiting trial, to appear in person before a magistrate in circumstances where they wish the refusal of bail to be reviewed. I think there is a strong principle there. It is a question of the philosophy underlying the application and rule of our law. I do not believe that it is an amendment or a change to the legislative scheme the Attorney-General is proposing that in any way derogates from the basic legislative scheme that he has introduced here, and I would urge that approach on the Assembly. Similarly in relation to those persons with a mental illness who might be required to give evidence before the Mental Health Tribunal, I think the same principles apply. I think there is no basis on which one would distinguish between a remandee seeking a review of bail and a person who might be required to appear before the Mental Health Tribunal.

Similarly, the Labor Party would like the legislation to reflect clearly that a person in those circumstances should be seen to have the discretion so that there can be no misunderstanding that, if they wish to appear in person, they may appear in person. If they do not wish to appear in person and they wish to use the audio or video link, that is fine and well. But it should be absolutely clear to them. We believe that there should be no occasion for confusion that those people do not have that right and that opportunity. That is all we are suggesting here. We believe that, with those small changes to the legislative scheme, the proposals the Attorney is bringing forward are worthy of support.

MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Community Safety and Minister Assisting the Treasurer) (11.56), in reply: I thank members for the support for this legislation. It is quite important to be able to use technology appropriately, to be able to consider how the work of the court can be improved and how the cost, in particular, of operating a court can be reduced, because money that we can save in the way in which the court works and the ancillary services to courts work is money that can, potentially, be invested in the improvement of access to justice - for example, the provision of additional magistrates or judges to improve people's chance of getting justice administered swiftly. There is a very important point here about being able to better manage resources in a way which reflects contemporary technology.

I have to say that my opinion is that the courts have been slower to uptake new technology and to use it effectively, at least courts in the ACT, than some other institutions within the ACT. That is a matter of regret. It is a matter which the Government is addressing at the moment in a number of ways and which I hope will be remedied in the next few years in an effective way. This is one way in which it starts to happen. Clearly the courts are now familiar with the use of this technology and familiar with taking evidence from witnesses by use of this technology. I do not think there is any question that it is working effectively in the context of our courts.

Having an audiovisual or visual link between the Belconnen Remand Centre and the courts is a very important additional capacity in our court system. It means that for the first time we will be able to have people making what are often quite routine appearances before a court - often for bail applications, for renewal of bail or for giving evidence in minor matters where there might be a plea of guilty or something of that kind - able to do

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